It’s safe to say Grandma fits The Greatest Generation template: she grew up during the Depression, lost Grandpa (temporarily) during World War II and became the first woman in her family to have a corporate career.
Likewise, my Mother was the quintessential Baby Boomer. Twenty-one in the Summer of Love. She and her friends either fought in or protested Viet Nam. Success to her meant life in the suburbs and a two-car garage.
Then I was born at the end of 1964. And that’s where things get murky. Technically I’m a Boomer too — every article I read that cites demographics tells me so. But I’m here to tell marketers they’re full of crap. My Mom and I weren’t quite 18 years apart, but there was a huge gap between us generation-wise. And there’s a virtual chasm between Grandma and me. It didn’t matter so much when we lived separately, but it compounds problems now that we’re under the same roof.
I’ll never know what it would have been like to care for my aging Mother, because she overdosed at 41. I understood her, and I could appreciate her tastes even though they weren’t mine. But I’m two generations removed from Grandma, and our educations, political beliefs, lifestyles and careers have nothing in common. The bond we share is my Mom. And she’s been gone 25 years.
What difference does it make how many generations separate us? For one thing, basic conversation is challenging. My Mom and I could communicate; Grandma and I carry on parallel conversation threads. “You need to eat healthier,” I’ll tell her. “Did anyone get the mail? I’m expecting my medication,” she’ll reply.
Lacking shared experiences is another. I’ve known Grandma my entire life, but like any grandparent she spoiled me and sent me home. She wasn’t there when Mom and I huddled silently in the dark while her alcoholic husband beat on the windows outside threatening to kill us. Surviving a common enemy bonds people like nothing else can.
In some ways, being an anti-Boomer inspired me to start this blog. The well-intended information for caregivers I’ve found is written with my Mother in mind — or at least people with mothers who are Grandma’s age. I didn’t grow up in a house with plastic-covered furniture and family dinners every night. I caught my parents smoking pot. I overheard stories about parties that ended with married couples trading partners for the night. I got the call the night my Mom died in the emergency room and had to figure out how to tell my brother and sister why I was taking them to their dad’s house in the middle of the night.
Mine are not the experiences of someone who grew up with The Greatest Generation. They’re post-modern. They’re infused with drugs and rock ‘n roll and anti-tradition. And they’re what Boomers’ children — the kids born in the mid-’60s forward — carry with them into caregiving relationships. Moving parents into your home or a senior community has always been a big transition. But we have different questions to determine the solutions we decide on.
For example how do single parents balance the needs of bookend generations by ourselves? If we have a biracial or same-sex partner, is it possible to cohabitate with older family members who disapprove of our lifestyle? Do we need to establish ground rules for our swinging septuagenarian dads who bring women home? And if our parents abused street drugs earlier in their lives, do we need to worry about them repeating the pattern with their plethora of prescription medication?
These societal issues didn’t appear overnight, and mine is not the first generation to deal with them. But they’re no longer taboo or exceptions — they’re mainstream. Demographics put people with wildly varying characteristics into two-dimensional buckets. It’s time aging-related organizations see beyond those artificial boundaries and offer more 3D solutions to the challenges modern caregivers and their families face.